The 1966 French Grand Prix, officially known as the LII Grand Prix de l'A.C.F., was the third round of the 1966 FIA Formula One World Championship, held at Reims on the 3rd of July. The race, which was also advertised as the '60th Anniversary Race' of Grand Prix racing, would be remembered for the feats achieved by two-time World Champion Jack Brabham.
After a turbulent couple of weeks for the Championship, the French Grand Prix arrived after a series of moves for the drivers started by John Surtees who had left Ferrari. The Englishman had joined the factory Cooper-Maserati outfit, and would share the front row with replacement Mike Parkes, and new Ferrari team leader Lorenzo Bandini.
When the flag dropped Surtees surged ahead of his former employers, but a fuel pump failure less than halfway round the lap put Bandini into the lead. Jack Brabham had got ahead of Parkes at the start and so led the chase behind the Italian, while the Australian owner/driver's team mate Denny Hulme rose up to fourth in the opening stages.
Bandini began to thrash out a lead over the early stages as Brabham and Hulme battled with Parkes over second. The rest of the Cooper-Maserati effort were chasing them down, while Dan Gurney and his self-entered Eagle-Climax was battling with them in the chasing pack. Elsewhere, Team Lotus were hampered in qualifying when Jim Clark withdrew having taken a bird to the face, while team mate Peter Arundell and replacement Pedro Rodríguez would retire.
Bandini looked all set to win with a quarter of the race still to run, but on lap 32 his throttle cable broke, sending him to the back of the field. Brabham inherited the lead with Parkes chasing him, the pair having slowly dropped Hulme, before entering a battle on the timesheets for victory. Ultimately, it was the double Champion who beat the debutante, as Brabham became the first man in Grand Prix history to win in a car carrying his own name.
Reims returned to host the French Grand Prix for the first time since 1963 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first Grand Prix, although it was events at Le Mans in mid-June that dominated the build up. Ford had finally completed their quest to defeat Ferrari at the World's greatest race, and the sheer scale of the victory for the American manufacturer had caused fallout in Maranello. John Surtees, witnessing the political games at hand decided to leave the team, starting a sudden series of changes within the F1 world.
The Englishman joined the factory Cooper-Maserati effort, and when Richie Ginther left, believing that the partnership of Surtees and Jochen Rindt would leave him without a drive, Chris Amon joined from McLaren. Cooper decided to run three cars for their three drivers, Ginther rejoining the Honda programme back in Japan, while Bruce McLaren only had one car race ready, so Amon was not replaced. For Ferrari, the exit of Surtees was followed by the arrival of sportscar ace Mike Parkes, who would use a longer-wheel base car to accommodate his longer legs.
Away from the driver changes, and BRM arrived with only one driver but three cars, with Jackie Stewart recovering from his shoulder break. Graham Hill was their only driver and was set to use their sole surviving Tasman Championship car, although the two H16 cars were delivered to France too. A third H16 engined car was to be found at Team Lotus, where Peter Arundell hoped to get a start for the first time in 1966, while World Champion Jim Clark continued to use his modified 1965 car.
All of the above left Brabham as one of the favourites for the French victory, as they quietly got on with completing a second Brabham-Repco chassis for Denny Hulme. Jack Brabham and Hulme now both had new for 1966 cars, and with the Repco engine running reliably throughout, they looked strong given the long straights at Reims. The final factory effort was to be found with Dan Gurney and his Anglo-American Racers effort, which fielded the beguiling Eagle-Climax once again.
Into the privateer field, and Reg Parnell Racing led the way with Mike Spence and Paul Hawkins set to do battle with their mismatched Lotus 25s. Jo Bonnier was back with a customer Brabham-Climax, using a 2.75-liter FPF engine, while the R.R.C. Walker Racing Team had Jo Siffert to race their Cooper-Maserati. Bob Bondurant would do battle as usual, the inexperienced Guy Ligier would be looking to finish and be classified as the only Frenchman in the field, while Brit John Taylor was the final entry with a Brabham-BRM.
The title battle after Belgium had seen victory for Surtees send him up to second in the World Championship standings, level on points with Stewart who had won in Monaco. Leading the way was Bandini after a second consecutive podium, just a point to the good, while Rindt sat in fourth. Hill rounded out the top five, with Ginther and Brabham joined the shortened scorers list.
Victory for Surtees had sent Ferrari straight to the top of the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, six clear of BRM as the British firm failed to score. Cooper-Maserati were into third after Rindt's podium, while Brabham-Repco were on the board after owner Jack's first points score for the Australian engine manufacturer.
The full entry list for the 1966 French Grand Prix is outlined below:
Reims had traditionally held the French Grand Prix on a Saturday, with practice spread out across three evenings over the course of the week due to the high temperatures of a summer in the Champagne region. However, with a Formula Two race to run on Saturday, the Grand Prix was pushed back to Sunday, meaning the teams would get a break after three sessions through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Target times for the pace setters would be a 2:16.8 recorded by Jack Brabham before the 1.5-liter era, a time that had put the Aussie on pole back in 1960.
With Ferrari absent, and Brabham-Repco needing to get Denny Hulme's car prepared, the only team with 3-liter engines on Wednesday evening were the factory Cooper-Maserati, supported by two privateer efforts. And, although third driver Chris Amon had brake issues, the factory efforts of John Surtees and Jochen Rindt proved that 3-liters was the way forward, with the Englishman taking just a few laps to get under the circuit record, before ending the evening with a 2:10.7, with Rindt half a second behind.
Wednesday had shown that the 2-liter cars were out of their depth, Graham Hill and Jim Clark only just in the top ten as the best of the modified 65 runners. Hill therefore spent most of Wednesday and Thursday trying out the BRM team's two H16 powered cars, while Team Lotus tried to get Peter Arundell out in their H16 powered chassis. The Englishman, however, would not make it out of the paddock on Wednesday after a drive shaft failure, and although he got out on the circuit on Thursday, by the time the H16 Lotus had cleared the pit straight it had burnt out the clutch.
Ferrari's arrival on Thursday, combined with solid running for Brabham in the Repco powered car and the continued pace of the Cooper-Maserati's made it a rather unusual look to the front end of the field. The 3-liter cars were ferociously fast down the straights, and it was Lorenzo Bandini, taking over from Surtees as team leader in the scarlet cars, who set the first sub-2:10.0 lap, although Mike Parkes was improving all the time. The Cooper-Maserati's were unable to match their straight line speed, so they opted to use a cunning strategy at the end of the day by using Rindt to provide a slipstream effect for Surtees to use down one straight, before the Englishman was released to latch onto the back of a charging Ferrari when they came cruising past.
The Cooper tactic worked to leave the ex-Ferrari racer at the top of the times on Thursday with a 2:08.4, leaving the field set to go to battle for pole on Friday. Out of the battle already were Hill and the H16 car, which was being troublesome with its gearbox, Arundell's H16 Lotus, which had a whole new problem with its drive shafts and Clark, who was out of action entirely after hitting a bird at high speed, damaging his left eye. The Scot was to be replaced by Pedro Rodríguez, after lengthy negotiations between the race organisers, Enzo Ferrari and Colin Chapman, although the Mexican would not beat the Scot's best time.
Into the pole fight, and Ferrari decided that they did not need to use slipstreams to set could times, telling Bandini and Parkes to unleash everything they could. The two duly delivered, and it was the Italian who ultimately claimed pole with a 2:07.8 half a second quicker than Surtees would could not best his unaided time. Parkes set a strong time to grab third from Brabham late in the day for a maiden front row start in his first race, with Rindt completing the top five.
Hill had almost joined the pole fight on an official basis for a time when the H16 finally showed its potential, with the Englishman forcing the growling BRM round for a 2:09.2. The strain, however, was too much for the gearbox and so Hill was forced into the Tasman car, the Englishman having had to hold the gear lever in position to keep the car from jumping into neutral. The fans were also given a brief look into what the race would be like on Sunday too, as the top four drivers all came across the line together at one point, prompting many in the pits to jump away from the track side.
The full qualifying results for the 1966 French Grand Prix are outlined below:
|WD||28||Bruce McLaren||McLaren-Serenissima||Entry withdrawn|
|WD||34||Paul Hawkins||Lotus-Climax||Entry withdrawn|
|WD||40||Bob Bondurant||BRM||Entry withdrawn|
- Bold indicates a driver's best/qualifying time.
- T Indicates a driver using their test/spare car to set their best time in that session.
- * Hill started in his 2-liter car, so his time in the H16 chassis was wiped.
- † Clark was unable to start the race due to his eye injury.
Unlike practice/qualifying, the race was held at 3:00pm local time to keep with the tradition of racing in France, which meant that the high temperatures during the day would catch up with the field. Mechanics were soaking pumps and other mechanical parts in water before bolting them in place just before the start, while the drivers were huddled in the shade. Eventually they were herded to their cars and set for a warm-up lap, before lining up on the grid at the feet of Raymond Roche who had the French Tricolour at hand to signal the start.
As Roche waved and sprinted off the side of the circuit, it was John Surtees who got the initial jump from the middle of the front row, surging ahead of the two Ferraris. His lead, however, was only by a nose, and when the engine coughed at the end of the pit area the Ferraris shot ahead, Lorenzo Bandini leaping into the lead. Debutante Mike Parkes was about to slot into the Italian's wake as the field went under the Dunlop Bridge and through the first corner, but a fast starting Jack Brabham had beaten him to it.
At the end of the opening lap and it was Bandini leading from Brabham, the Australian owner/driver tucking right into the slipstream of the Italian. Then came Parkes at the head of the rest of the field, with Chris Amon and Jochen Rindt in the other two Cooper-Maseratis run by Cooper harrasing the scarlet car ahead. Their team mate Surtees was in the middle of the group, down in thirteenth, although the fact that he was still going was better than the fate of Peter Arundell, who had to limp the H16 engined Lotus-BRM into the pits.
By the end of the second lap Bandini and Brabham were, realistically, on their own, with Parkes far enough behind already to lose the slipstream effect. He was having to fend off the remaining Coopers, as Surtees was forced to stop at the end of the lap with a vapour lock issue, which was traced, after much mishap in the pits, to a faulty drive on the fuel pump. The Englishman's race was run, although he would get back out onto the circuit for a handful of laps, while Arundell got a few laps under his belt before his H16 Lotus finally destroyed its gearbox.
Jo Siffert was the next casualty in the pits with a vapour lock issue, a worrying development for Cooper as he was also running a Cooper-Maserati car, and had been stalking the two remaining factory efforts. Amon and Rindt, however, seemed to be fine as they continued to attack Parkes, who was managing to fend them off on his first F1 start, with Graham Hill and Denny Hulme threatening the trio too. Out front, meanwhile, Bandini was steadily creating a gap back to Brabham, although the Italian needed to smash the lap record down to 2:12.0 in order to do so.
Already the race was at a quarter distance, and Bandini held a slender gap of two seconds, although that equated to a good hundred yards across the start/finish line due to the high average speeds of Reims.. Then came the battling quartet of Parkes, Amon, Hill and Rindt, with the latter trio all passing one another in the wake of the Ferrari. From time to time Hill would force his way up the inside of Parkes through Calvaire at the start of a lap, only for Parkes to expertly take the position back into the hairpin at Muizon.
Yet, the quartet did not last, with the two Coopers finally hitting problems like their sister cars, although for Amon the issue was related to handling. The New Zealander was the first to fall with a lose hub nut, an easy problem to cure, but doing so meant he tumbled down the order and lost touch. As for Rindt, the Austrian was in the fray just long enough to overheat his engine and lose power, allowing Denny Hulme to come crusing past a few laps after he lost touch with Parkes and Hill.
Soon the duel for third was broken up too, as Hill fell by the wayside with a camshaft failure leaving him with only one bank of four cylinders. That left the top six well spaced out, with Bandini still dancing around out front to keep Brabham out of his tow, Parkes and Hulme a fair way back, Rindt nursing his overheating Cooper in fifth, and Pedro Rodríguez under no threat at all in sixth. The only action on circuit was a lowly battle between ex-Porsche colleagues Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier, both of who had under powered cars leaving them in positions which betrayed their skill levels.
The race was a rather dull affair for the middle third, the only action being Bandini and Brabham, who were taking no prisoners when lapping other cars, despite the eighteen second gap between them. The Italian was driving as well as he ever had in the scarlet car, setting fastest lap on the 30th tour of the circuit, a 2:11.3, but on the run to Thillois, the final corner, on lap 32 the V12 engine suddenly lost revs.
The Ferrari's throttle cable snapped and caused the engine to die before he reached the corner, meaning he would have to coast back to the pits for repairs. Unfortunately, the run back from Thillois was up hill, so Bandini leapt out of the car, tore baler twine from a straw bale and tied the ends of the cable back together, leaving enough length for him to pull it from the cockpit. The hasty repair was enough for him to, almost literally, drag the Ferrari into the pits for a new cable, but the damage had already been done as Brabham flew past while the Italian was climbing out at the hairpin.
The cable repair put Bandini out of the race until the closing stages, and as Brabham had a 40 second advantage over Parkes, the race was won. The Australian would ease off over the final laps to protect his engine, while Parkes was not being geed up by the Italian firm, who knew that his inexperience at Grand Prix level could cost them a guaranteed podium finish. Hulme was too far back to challenge for second, although the New Zealander would be happy with third as things stood, as a failure for Rodriguez in the closing laps reminded everyone that engine peril still loomed.
Just two laps from the end Hulme failed to arrive back past the pits when the fuel pump failed to pick up the last couple of gallons in the fuel tank. The New Zealander fell two laps behind in the process, but was able to crawl to the flag in third, as Brabham and Parkes swept across the line some ten seconds apart. Hulme's almost woes, however, were nothing compared to the fate of Bob Anderson, who lost his final drive gear on the run out of Thillios on the final lap.
The Brit was in fourth place at the time, and as he coasted to the line, Rindt, Gurney and John Taylor all flew by to take the final points leaving Anderson a frustrating seventh. A closing thunderstorm had also proved too little, too late for Cooper too, as the storm front caused temperatures to plummet, solving their vapour lock issues (where fuel would vaporise before it reached the engine, causing air bubbles to form) and getting Rindt, Amon and Guy Ligier back up to speed. Gurney was a shock fifth in his little underpowered Eagle, while Taylor had enjoyed a quiet race at the back of the field to earn a maiden points finish.
Yet, despite Anderson's anguish, the day was Brabham's, as the Australian became the first man to win a race in a car built by his own team. It was also the veteran Aussie's first win since the 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the entire field were there to congratulate him for his efforts. And, without the much disliked M.G.M. film crews dotted throughout the paddock, the atmosphere of the French Grand Prix of 1966 had been a delight.
The full results for the 1966 French Grand Prix are outlined below:
|3||14||Denny Hulme||Brabham-Repco||46||+2 laps||9||4|
|4||6||Jochen Rindt||Cooper-Maserati||46||+2 laps||5||3|
|5||26||Dan Gurney||Eagle-Climax||45||+3 laps||14||2|
|6||44||John Taylor||Brabham-BRM||45||+3 laps||15||1|
|7||36||Bob Anderson||Brabham-Climax||44||+4 laps||12|
|8||8||Chris Amon||Cooper-Maserati||44||+4 laps||7|
|NC*||42||Guy Ligier||Cooper-Maserati||42||+6 laps||11|
|Ret||2||Pedro Rodríguez||Lotus-Climax||40||Oil line||13|
|NC*||20||Lorenzo Bandini||Ferrari||37||+11 laps||1|
|NC*||30||Jo Bonnier||Brabham-Climax||32||+16 laps||17|
- * Ligier, Bandini and Bonnier were not classified as they did not complete 90% of the race distance.
- Debut for Mike Parkes.
- Maiden pole position for Lorenzo Bandini.
- Also the Italian's only pole start.
- Eighth career win for Jack Brabham.
- Brabham also became the first man to win in a car built by his own team.
- Also the Australian's first win since the 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix.
- First podium for Parkes.
- His podium was also the 150th for Ferrari.
- Denny Hulme claimed his maiden podium finish.
- Second and final fastest lap for Bandini.
Victory for the first time since 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix sent Jack Brabham straight to the top of the World Championship standings, two clear of Lorenzo Bandini. The Championship standings were beginning to fill out after the reduced scorers list from the first two rounds, as twelve drivers, rounded out by John Taylor, were on the board. Three drivers had nine points, John Surtees and Jackie Stewart tied after a win a piece, while Jochen Rindt was fifth.
Ferrari extended their advantage to nine points in the Intercontinental Cup for Manufacturers, now ahead of the Brabham-Repco outfit. BRM were third, level on points with Cooper-Maserati, while Dan Gurney's new Eagle-Climax effort was in fifth. Privateer Taylor's point also meant that Brabham-BRM were on the board as the first privateer effort.
Images and Videos:
- 'GRAND PRIX RESULTS: FRENCH GP, 1966', grandprix.com, (Inside F1 Inc., 2016), http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/rr144.html, (Accessed 31/07/2016)
- D.S.J., 'THE 52nd GRAND PRIX OF THE A.C.F.: A Popular Victory', motorsportmagazine.com, (Motor Sport Magazine, 01/08/1966), http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1966/15/52nd-grand-prix-acf, (Accessed 01/08/2016)
- 'France 1966: Entrants', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1966/france/engages.aspx, (Accessed 31/07/2016)
- 'France 1966: Qualifications', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1966/france/qualification.aspx, (Accessed 01/08/2016)
- 'France 1966: Result', statsf1.com, (Stats F1, 2016), http://www.statsf1.com/en/1966/france/classement.aspx, (Accessed 01/08/2016)
|V T E||French Grand Prix|
|Circuits||Reims (1950–1951, 1953–1954, 1956, 1958–1961, 1963, 1966)
Rouen-Les-Essarts (1952, 1957, 1962, 1964, 1968)
Charade Circuit (1965, 1969–1970, 1972)
Bugatti Circuit (1967)
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